Napoli supporters unfurl banner in solidarity with Milan fans sanctioned for calling the southern club 'cholera-sufferers'
For your average Italian football fan, the regional insults flung across the terraces are considered a humourous offshoot of Italy's vibrant local cultures and dialects. So when tough new rules against discriminatory chants were used to ban Milan fans from their stadium for a game after they hurled insults at fans of southern club Napoli, it wasn't long before fans across Serie A united to fight for the right to be insulted.
The row started this summer after Italy implemented new Uefa rules on stadium bans for racist chanting, long a problem in Italy, where Juventus fans have abused the black player Mario Balotelli and Lazio fans have raised antisemitic banners.
However, Italian authorities have also applied Uefa's stadium ban rule to what it calls "territorial discrimination". "We have had financial sanctions for territorial discrimination since the 1990s," said a spokeswoman for the Italian football association (FIGC), "but this summer we made it punishable with a stadium ban to align it with the new Uefa rules, since each country can decide on the various types of discrimination the Uefa rules should cover."
Milan fans were banned from their stadium for a game after insulting their counterparts from Napoli, who have long been victims of chants about crime, poverty and cholera outbreaks in their city.
Suprisingly, thick-skinned Neapolitans mounted a defence of the Milanisti this weekend at their San Paolo stadium. A banner was unfurled in the Curva B section – one of the ends of the ground behind the goalposts that traditionally houses diehard fans or 'ultras' – that said: "[We are] Naples cholera-sufferers. Now close our curva!". Fans also reeled off a string of anti-Napoli chants.
The protest echoed chants in the UK at the weekend of "We'll sing what we want", and "Yid army" by fans of Tottenham Hotspur – which traditionally has a large Jewish fanbase – in defiance of police warnings not to use the word "Yid" in chants.
Milan fans thanked their Napoli rivals for their support, stating on their website: "They have shown how false and ridiculous these accusations are," adding: "Welcome to the country where teasing and making fun [of opponents] motivate sanctions that limit freedom."
Amid signs of a partial climbdown by FIGC, fans of Internazionale got in on the act, appealing to fans of Italian football teams to belt out insulting chants about their rivals "in order to have a Sunday in which all stadiums are closed".
As clubs faced up to the possibility of a season of empty stadiums, chairmen wrote to FIGC on Tuesday pleading for a rethink. "We are passing from a firm condemnation of racism – a phenomenon we consider unacceptable," wrote the Milan fans on their website, "to the impossibility of being irreverent, acid and even rude!"
• Napoli fans waved a banner declaring "Juliet is a tart" during a game against Verona, the famous setting for Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet.
• "Only prosciutto, you've only got prosciutto" is a popular chant directed at fans of Parma, where the cured ham is made
• "You are uglier than a Multipla," directed at Juventus fans. This is a reference to the notoriously odd-looking car made by Fiat, the company associated with the Agnelli family that controls Juventus.